There is a picture, from the New Orleans/Hurricane Katrina floods, of a man wading in chin-high water, holding a bunch of papers over his head. If you have worked with me, you have spent a lot of time putting your instructions for your people down on paper. So, if there's a fire or a flood, should you take the "Big Red Book" with you?
Yes, you should, if you're driving and you can fit it in, bring it. But if you are scrambling to get out with what you can carry, leave the "Big Red Book" behind.
If you have LegalVault, your medical instructions – Health Care Proxy, Living Will, and so forth, will be available online. Some people upload their powers of attorney and trusts as well. If you didn't, don't worry.
Your first call (after family) when the disaster is over and you are ready to pick up the pieces, should be to your estate planning attorney. I can help you by working with your insurance professional make sure that you collect your insurance proceeds. We will make an appointment for you to sign new documents. Your trust can go on operating based on a copy. If you are in the Maintenance Program, I will have a photocopy of your trust in my files. Your bank will also probably have a copy. In any event, your trustees remain empowered, because they are named as such on your bank and brokerage accounts. Your deed, which is on file with the registry, confirms your trustees' power over your real estate.
So the message is, you will really be all right. Don't panic.
That said, there are some things you can do to make "picking up the legal pieces" easier. Make sure your successor trustees have updated photocopies of the trust. (Keep a record of who has these copies, though, and make sure, when you update, to send them out the new ones.) You may also want to consider having us upload your will, trust and powers to Legalvault. Only you (and your estate planning attorney) will have access to that part of LegalVault. (The PIN on your wallet care only allows a medical professional to download your health care directives).
Some clients place their documents in a fire-proof safe at home. This is not a bad solution, though, of course, you want to make sure that your successor Trustees have the combination, or know where to find it. A bank safe deposit box is not a good place for your will and trust, although it may be fine for other important documents, such as insurance policies and bonds. I will discuss the weaknesses of bank safe deposit boxes in another entry.
So the message is, be careful, but make sure your information is backed up! And call your lawyer as soon as the sky clears.